Q&A with Lyn St James

In preparation for the Women in Racing exhibit, opening November 21, each of the racers highlighted were given the opportunity to answer questions about the arc of their careers. Earlier posts include the responses of Cindi Lux, Michelle Miller, Betty Burkland and now Lyn St James.

 
Lyn St. James celebrates her win in the 1985 Serengeti Drivers New York 500 at Watkins Glen.

Lyn St. James celebrates her win in the 1985 Serengeti Drivers New York 500 at Watkins Glen.

 

LYN ST JAMES

What moments represented a milestone, stepping stone, or shift in your racing career?

Lyn St James: In looking back I would say there are a few critical pieces of my racing career:  

  • Winning/becoming truly competitive in SCCA (which took a couple of years);
  • Stepping into equipment that I wasn't familiar with (a Corvette in IMSA) and becoming competitive (getting used to “not being comfortable” and learning to adapt);
  • Getting Ford Motor Company as a sponsor (1981). Had that not happened, I don't believe I ever would have had a career in racing, plus it enabled me to race in very competitive equipment;
  • Achieving some dream goals (winning the 24 Hours of Daytona, racing in the 24 Hours of LeMans, racing in the Indy 500);
  • Winning Indy 500 Rookie of the Year and racing in 15 Indycar races and 7 Indy 500's.

How would you summarize the projection of your career?

Lyn St James: It's difficult to summarize "projection" because it was more of an evolution and necessity.  After racing in SCCA for about 7 years on my own funds it became apparent to me that if I didn't get a sponsor I wouldn't be able to continue, and to get a sponsor I needed to race in professional races, not amateur races.  A critical element was the start of the IMSA Kelly American Challenge Series in 1979.  They were the Series sponsor and their primary business was secretarial temporary help, but because they were branching out into more male dominated industries, sponsoring the male dominated sport of racing made sense, but they decided to promote women drivers by creating a "Top Woman Driver Award" in each race and a season points fund for the women drivers.  This is so important because it enabled me, and other women racers, a chance to race and support a sponsor's agenda.  It also was the first time I ever was contacted by a car owner to race his car.  In 1979, I ran the inaugural IMSA Kelly American Challenge race at Road Atlanta and finished 2nd, .79 seconds behind race winner Gene Felton.  I was able to run the full 10 race series that year and received all the bonus prize money, which went to the car owner, who was very happy about that.  I was able to continue to race in that series off and on and Ford sponsored me for the 1981 IMSA Kelly American Challenge Series Championship.  After that, Ford decided which series they wanted me to race in, so from 1981-1990 it varied between the IMSA Kelly American Challenge, IMSA GTO, IMSA Camel GT Series, and SCCA Trans Am Series.

What do you see as a pinnacle(s) of your career, and/or what is your projected goal? 

Lyn St James: Racing in the Indy 500 has to be the pinnacle of my career, and while for many years it was more of a dream and a goal that I didn't believe would ever happen, once it did, I was totally committed to continuing until I was able to win.  While I never won an Indy race, I did improve and was competitive considering I was only able to run 15 races over a 9 year period. 

How do you see or saw the arc of your racing career being affected by your gender vs. your male counterparts? 

Lyn St James: In the 1970s, it was a volatile time for women in society and I was often caught up in that by others, but personally all I wanted to do was race and become the best racer possible.  I also wanted to help dispel the negative myth about women drivers.  In the 1980s (my professional road racing years) being a female driver brought more attention to everything I did, but it also raised attention to whatever else happened (meaning good or bad races).  Because Ford Motor Company was my sponsor and they focused their sponsorship on creating opportunities for women in the automotive business as well as selling Ford products to women—that was a primary theme for their support.  Fortunately my racing performances were aligned with their campaign.  In the 1990s when I was able to get to the open wheel Indy 500 level, being accepted as a racing driver by my peers, officials and the media because of my prior success helped, and by then society also was much more comfortable with women being successful in male dominated fields.  I think I was more of a reflection of the times than anything else.